Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Holidays: On Moving Forward

For our family, the holidays have always been filled with traditions that date back before I was born, each year a different telling of a story that has been decades in the making.  Christmas Eve at my aunt's house, my uncle playing Santa and passing out gifts as a big pot of gumbo simmered on the stove.  Adults around the kitchen table discussing adult things, never a shortage of cousins to get into trouble with, Christmas Mass by candlelight, a big Christmas Day lunch with all the trimmings.  The older we got and the more our family grew, the traditions just got richer and filled with more meaning.  This was our way, these memories are what defined the season for me and what I wanted my own children to experience.

But then life happens and things change and you realize that nothing stays familiar forever.  Five years ago, my parents got divorced, my grandmother passed away, and my cousin and her husband were killed in a tragic accident.  Suddenly, no one felt like celebrating anything anymore.  The old familiar routines we held so dear were now painful reminders of the people we missed so deeply, relationships broken, heartache replacing happy memories.  Those years were difficult, dark times and I struggled with the holidays.  I wanted things to be the way that they used to be.  I wanted us all to be together.  I remember crying right through that first Christmas Eve after my parents separated, the whole night felt like a dress rehearsal gone wrong. This wasn't what Christmas was supposed to feel like!  We were all supposed to be together!  But we weren't.  And we never would be again. Nothing steals your Christmas spirit quite like the anger that accompanies grief.

The year of Shawn's accident, we went out of town for every single holiday.  We needed something fresh and new, a different perspective to pick us up and carry us through that exhausting chapter of our lives.  We visited our best friends in Florida and enjoyed a soul reviving Thanksgiving on the beach.  We drove out to see family in Texas and enjoyed different foods and customs.  It was all so different and out of our norm but it was refreshing and I felt a part of my heart begin to open. Because no matter where we were or who we were with, the spirit of the holiday and the magic of the season was IN US.  It was all still happening no matter how sad I was that we weren't in my aunt's living room or under my grandmother's tree.  Life was moving on and we were growing and changing ourselves and God was showing me that new things, beautiful things, were waiting for me to open up my heart and see.

For the last two years, I have done just that: I have opened up my heart and I have worked through my grief and I am thankful for where we are in this very moment.  In the last two years, our family has started to move to the beat of a new drum, the familiar hum of the past serving as a foundation as we break into new songs and create our own melody.  We're starting new traditions and gathering in different places and it's all starting to feel like home again.  We have suffered loss and struggled to keep it all together but, in the end, we are a family.  Those memories and traditions are the way that the ones we have lost will live on, the familiar sights and smells and sounds reminding us of how wonderful things used to be while still appreciating how far we've come.  And how blessed we are to be able to experience what lies ahead.


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Magical Fourth Birthday

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Our sweet Brees Elizabeth turned four on Saturday, despite our protests that she stay this little forever. At four, Brees is the funniest little person I know.  She talks ALL OF THE TIME and makes us laugh constantly with her witty commentary.  She is a lover of the great outdoors, the first to wake up in the morning, and an expert gardener.  She loves ballet, singing, and doing any kind of painting/crafting project.  She is curious and sweet and we are so thankful that she belongs to us!

She woke up really early on her birthday and was so excited when she got her first birthday gift from her sister: a beautiful Elsa dress!  She put it on immediately and didn't take it off for the rest of the weekend.  Shawn and Isabelle spent the rest of the morning at a basketball tournament which gave me several hours alone with the little kids.  They "helped" me bake Brees' birthday cake: a french vanilla cake that we made blue to fit our Frozen theme.  We also made cupcakes, frozen hearts, Kristoff's ice cubes, and a platter of "We finish each other's sandwiches".  Brees helped me put up a few decorations, hand me downs from our sweet friend Lucy's Frozen party.  It was a quiet, relaxing morning and I was so thankful to have that time with her before her big party that afternoon.  We talked and laughed and I let her lick the bowl and eat as many chocolates as she wanted.  It was a very special start to a very special day.


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Before we knew it, it was time for our family and friends to arrive for Brees' party. Brees didn't know it yet, but two VERY special guests were on their way all the way from Arondale.  We gathered in the living room, talking and laughing and trying to distract the kids as we waited for the most important party guests of all.  We heard a knock at the front door, a very familiar knock (the exact knock from the movie to be exact).

"Brees, I think there's someone at the door! Let's see who it is!"

She followed me to the front door, completely oblivious to what was going on.  When I opened the door, her little face lit up as she realized that Elsa and Anna were standing on our front porch!!  She literally gasped, her eyes wide open, and just stood there in silence.  After a minute of complete shock, she screamed, "Elsa!!!  It's you!!!!" and wrapped her arms around her favorite princess.  She tackled Anna next, screaming in disbelief.  It was the most magical moment!!!



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She welcomed the princesses inside and immediately asked Elsa, "Do you really have ice powers? Please don't freeze my house, okay?  You have to promise.  It's my most favorite house ever, okay?"

The princesses were amazing: we were able to literally sit back and enjoy the show.  They played games with the kids, read them stories, and sang songs.  They gathered in a circle and all started to sing "Let It Go" together.  Within seconds, Brees ran out of the room crying.  I chased after her, hugged her close as she cried on my shoulder "But Mommy that's MY song!  I've been practicing that song for Elsa for a LONG TIME!!!". I couldn't help but laugh as I assured her that she would have her moment. As I carried her back into the room, Elsa and Anna had already picked up on what was going on and asked the other girls to sit in a circle around Brees, giving her her moment to shine.  She stood in the middle of the circle and went all out, singing with Elsa at the top of her lungs.  It was priceless and the whole room cheered!


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The princesses gave the girls special pixie dust and told them to make a wish, a wish they could only tell their parents about.  Brees ran to me and said "I wish for a special doll", before running back to stand next to Elsa.  They closed their eyes and blew pixie dust all over our living room and I was actually really happy to have all of that positive energy in the room.  We moved into the dining room to sing happy birthday and open presents and enjoy our pretty blue cake.  I was so thankful that my friends and family stepped up and took over for me: my friend Mandy took all of the pictures, Gracie cut the cake and Ashley passed out plates.  Shawn and I were able to just sit with Brees and enjoy the moment and that is totally my love language.  One of my favorite moments was when Brees opened a special Elsa doll from her cousins, the very same doll she had just wished for with her pixie dust, and screamed "Mom!!!  It happened!!!!".



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It was a day that I don't think that any of us will ever forget, one of those days that just sticks to your soul and reminds you of how blessed we are to get to raise these children.  When you see the sparkle in their eyes, when you witness their pure innocence and joy abound, it is inspiring.  The magic that we experienced that day will make me smile every time I think of it.  Shawn and I feel so blessed that God chose us to raise this incredible little girl.  She teaches us so much each day, encouraging us with her kind nature and inspiring us with her curiosity.  Happy birthday, little Breesie girl.  I hope that you experience a little magic each and every day, sharing your love and positive energy with every person you meet.


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Boy Who Broke Me

I've always thought of myself as the organized one.  The Type A girl, the lover of lists and all things neat and tidy.  My home has always been a "so clean you can eat off the floor" type of place and I've always prided myself on that fact.  I am efficient and productive and I like things just so.

Even after Isabelle was born.  Even after Brees.  I somehow managed to keep things contained and in their places: stored and categorized, a place for every little Barbie doll and a system to get it all done. It's how I operate, it's how my brain works.  I thrive on order and I feel so refreshed and accomplished when I make one last round through the house at night, picking up and adjusting and tidying up our sacred space.  

Until River came along.  My precious wild spirited boy, the boy who broke me.

I realized within the first few weeks of being a mom of THREE that I was not going to be able to maintain my previous definition of "getting it all done".  I just couldn't keep up and I felt defeated many days as I looked around our home and saw a mess in every corner.  There was a shift in our house and Shawn and I felt overwhelmed at times as we worked to develop our new normal: three little people who needed our attention, new routines, a busier schedule.  But I kept trucking along, making charts and waking up earlier to ensure that I got it all done, exhausting myself as I tried to return to my once tidy, "I've got it all together" self. 

I slowly began to realize that I was at a crossroads in my journey.  I could either spend my days walking in circles, cleaning and worrying and stressing and making lists and yelling at everyone around me for not following suit.  Or, I could close my eyes to the perceived messes around me, both literally and figuratively, and just enjoy the ride.  The crazy, chaotic, obnoxiously loud ride that is our family of five. The answer seemed pretty clear.

Sometimes, when I fight the process, when I struggle to accept a changing reality and refuse to welcome a new season into my life, anxiety takes over and I suffer tremendously.  I felt anxious and uncomfortable for a few months, I felt out of control and unsure of how to establish a balance. Who was I if I wasn't the constantly moving, neat and tidy list keeper?  What was my purpose if not to keep things efficient at all times?  How would I get it all together and put back into place?

I learned that God had it all figured out long before I did.  He knew that I needed breaking, I needed the wake up call that was my son to quiet my mind and relax my always moving personality.  I needed to learn to sit and breath and rest, to move through life a little slower and easier.  I needed to spend my time at home enjoying my family, I needed to allow my many other attributes to take center stage for once: my creative side, my playful side, my warm and nurturing heart.  Those parts of me were finally allowed to shine through much louder and with more passion and our whole family began to grow as a result.  It was like someone let a big burst of sunshine in and our little garden blossomed all around.

I worked hard on myself, settling down deep into my soul work, focusing more time and energy on my spiritual growth, my mothering and husband loving, and less time on keeping it all together. I focused on loving: loving my people and loving myself.  And I soon came to realize that those parts of myself that I have always valued so dear: the organized, efficient, productive, Type A list keeper, those qualities are what make me a good nurse. God gave me those specific characteristics so that I could provide quality care to those in need. That person that I was so desperately trying to hold onto at home: I could be that person at work, I could use those skills to take care of my patients.  I could express that side of myself and feed those needs in my nursing career, nurturing myself and my patients at the same time.  And then, when I got home, I could let my soul be free.  I could walk right by a big messy pile of laundry and jump on the bed with my kids.  I could play more and worry less and still be who I am, who I was born to be.

They say that life is all about perspective and that overcoming challenging times is usually as simple as just changing your thought process.  And that's where I am right now: shifting my focus and looking at things a little differently.  My son helped me to grow in that way, he taught me how to fly a little higher, how to rest and be more intent in the here and now.  He broke me in the way that a third baby can.  And I am better for it, our whole family is.  We have the spaghetti stains on the carpet to prove it.


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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fall Is Here AKA The End of Summer Hibernation in Louisiana

Here in Louisiana, we count down the days of August as if they were a jail sentence.  Because they kind of are: the heat and humidity forcing us to hibernate and dream about someday owning a summer vacation home in Colorado or Vermont. September isn't much better.  In fact, the only thing that makes September somewhat bearable is the fact that football starts and we are distracted by the fact that going outside is such a miserable task because we are able to hunker down in front of our TVs for the big game. But we made it: fall is here!  I check the weather forecast every week and cheer when I see the numbers begin to tick down into the 80s and THEN, and then, into the heaven sent 70s!  An end to the 90 degree ridiculously humid summer weather, football and gumbo, and an endless amount of time outdoors as we wake from our end of summer hibernation: my soul feels revived as the trees begin to turn colors and the air grows cooler in the mornings.  The garden is still pumping out eggplants and peppers but the tomatoes and cucumbers and squash have now been replaced with broccoli and cabbage plants. The kids have been busy riding their bikes, digging in their baby garden, and playing basketball. Shawn and I have been taking advantage of the beautiful weather and have been running every chance we get.  It's unbelievable what a difference the temperature makes in your running performance! It's been an amazing couple of weeks around here lately.

River learned to drive and the girls painted lots of pumpkins.  They were completely uninterested in carving pumpkins this year: they wanted all the paint and stickers and whatever else I would let them glue together for our front porch decor.  We spent many afternoons on the front porch, sipping hot tea and making big messes with our pumpkins.


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My cousin April and I took our combined seven children out for a trip to the pumpkin patch.  It was a beautiful day that included hay rides, face painting, and pumpkin picking.  April and I laughed until our sides hurt at our children's complete lack of interest in anything we had to say that day, an experience that could be compared to herding cats.  But through the tears and toddler tantrums and bathroom breaks and diaper changes, we made some incredible memories together.  And that's the good stuff, the stuff that makes my heart beat strong.







And, of course, there was Halloween.  We did it big this year, taking the kids to as many neighborhoods as their little feet could carry them.  You want all the candy?  You go right on ahead and eat as much as you want, boo!  We had hot dogs at a local church's trunk or treat event and then ended the night at the most awesome fall carnival complete with pony rides, a petting zoo, and inflatable jumpers.  Isabelle even won first place in the costume contest!  River wouldn't come anywhere near his scary witch mama for most of the night, instead hiding out in his stroller and looking around with his big hazel eyes.  Brees was scared of some of the costumes until I reassured her that superheroes don't have to be scared because superheroes are AWESOME.  She then put her hands on her hips every time she saw a scary costume, holding her ground and shouting "I'm awesome!  I'm not scared at all!".  It was the most fun night we've had in a long time.

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It has been a beautiful season in our lives as a family: we are working hard and playing every chance we get.  The kids are getting so big so fast and we don't want to miss one single thing.  I love being their mom and I love seeing their little faces light up at just the simplest things.  They remind me to stay humble, keep things simple, and to live in the moment.  Shawn and I thank God every single day for this life we are living: the good, the bad, and the beautiful moments of clarity in between.